The McNair TRio program helps first-generation, low-income students seeking doctorate degrees

Raised by migrant farmworkers in Washington State, Dr. Janette Mariscal was raised on the principles of hard work and perseverance while picking apples and cherries.

Today, she is dedicated to ensuring that students of color have the same opportunities to earn academically three letters by their name: PhD.

McNair TRio program

The McNair TRiO program seeks to help first generation, low-income undergraduate students pursue their doctorate degrees. It is the mission of the program to center racial and ethnic identity in research and graduate school preparation.

From imposter syndrome to financial literacy, the resources available to McNair scholars stem beyond campus accessibility, and instead from the harsh reality of greater issues many students of color face in academia.

Through her own personal experiences and a former McNair scholar herself, Director Mariscal is committed to helping students navigate their post-graduate career.

“We do have to know that within education systems, to be in a space you have to have a title, there has to be a degree that backs you up and that degree is your cultural capital,” said Dr. Mariscal of the long-term impact of a postgraduate degree.

Pursuing Phds

“For me, I knew that having pursued a PhD after undergrad, coming into any space I was going to be questioned, because I was young and Latina,” said Dr. Mariscal. 

Dr. Mariscal’s story is not uncommon, and her mission is to assist scholars who have similar lived experiences to be as prepared as possible entering graduate research.

Currently, less than 1% of U.S. Latinos obtain a PhD, and few utilize that doctorate degree in academia. A 2019 study from the Hispanic Journal of Law and Policy revealed that only 4.6 percent of tenured faculty at doctoral institutions are Hispanic/Latino. 

CSULB

At California State University, Long Beach, there are students working to change those numbers.

Ada Reyes is a graduating senior and current McNair scholar, who plans to dedicate her life to helping students just like her.

Ada Reyes is a current member of the McNair TRiO program at Cal State Long Beach.
Ada Reyes on campus at CSULB. Photo by Andrea Lopez.

“I feel like my social and personal experiences have allowed me to take advantage of the resources available to me,” said Reyes of the support she has received not only through McNair TRiO, but at CSULB, “Sometimes it’s not about them not being there, it’s just not being aware of them.”

The daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, Reyes has always viewed education as a priority. 

As a sociology major and an amputee, Reyes wishes to assess how transfer students with acquired disabilities navigate their new status, the support obtained from various institutions and what that given support looks like.

Mentoring

Reyes’ faculty mentor, Dr. Janet Muñiz, is a sociology professor at CSULB.

As a faculty member, Dr. Muñiz’s work focuses on the effects of gentrification in her hometown of Santa Ana, CA. Part of Dr. Muñiz’s role as a mentor is connecting Reyes with a network of McNair scholars, who may be able to assist her in her postgraduate research.

“I relied a lot on getting through by the mentoring of other students of color who were ahead of me,” said Dr. Muñiz of the informal mentoring chain that exists in academia, “and I share this info with people who are finishing now.”

Despite the network of academics that Drs Mariscal and Muñiz will grant to Reyes, the existence of Latinos with an academic title tied to their name is few and far between.

 “I always make this joke that all Latinos with a Ph.D. know each other,” said Muñiz of the state of Latino representation in academia.

Latina doctorates

“The majority of the majors who major in sociology [at CSULB] are Latinas, and there are two Latina full-time faculty members in the department [out of 41] including myself,” added Dr. Muñiz.

The demographics within the sociology department are just one indication of the greater issue of lack of representation on campus.

In the official headcount of tenured and tenure-track faculty at CSULB, the number of Hispanic/Latino faculty in the Fall 2021 semester was 10.8%, a stark number in comparison to the 49.5% of Hispanic/Latino students enrolled in the same semester.

The percentage of Hispanic/Latino students increased to 51.2% in Fall 2022.

As for the number of faculty of color, Dr. Muñiz remains optimistic of the future: 

“Any chance I get to support the trajectory of potentially future faculty from underrepresented backgrounds is great,” said Dr. Muñiz of her work as a McNair mentor. “Since I am just starting to be a professor, I think it’s going to be interesting even 5 years from now.”

For students like Reyes, the network that she has built before even beginning her postgraduate studies reflects the possibility of making the odds work in her favor.

 “McNair has given me the confidence to not just believe in myself, but in the things that I can accomplish,” said Reyes to prospective scholars who may be hesitant to apply. “You don’t get that chance if you never try.”

This story was originally published at DÍG EN ESPAÑOL, the bilingual journalism magazine published by students at Long Beach State.

Anasazi Ochoa is a freelance writer and recent graduate from California State University, Long Beach, where she studied Journalism and Chicano/Latino Studies. Anasazi hopes to pursue a career in broadcast...